My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast. Today we are talking philosophy and specifically the question “What represents a good life for you?”
This may feel a little off topic for a podcast primarily delving into time and productivity but the reality is that we spend much of our time, energy and attention answering this question in our daily actions.
So let me ask it again using different words: “What gives you joy and purpose in life?”
This question has followed philosophers throughout the ages but these days it is a question we’re all being asked to answer as individuals. In times past, when most people lived in highly religious societies with God having a say on pretty much every decision there was broad consensus as to how to answer this question – in Christian terms this would have been a pious person who lived by the word of God and specifically the commandments. The end goal was to get into heaven and there were clear guidelines as to how to achieve that. It was obvious that for them the good life wasn’t just a destination – it was something you lived each and every day.
These days it is a little more complex because, regardless of personal beliefs, the divine has receded from communal life in most countries. It is therefore up to us to grapple with this question on our own. Looking around us we clearly see different people coming to different conclusions so it doesn’t feel anymore as if there is one right answer. Many people think they’ve found it in striving for a successful life, a busy life or indeed a quiet life. There are so many ways people express this – a life that realises your potential, adds value, makes a difference, leaves the world in a better place or just leaves you in a better place.
All of these answers assume certain things about the world, about our place in it, and about what it is we might accomplish during our time on this planet. I’m not going to argue that one set of answers is better than another but for me the key point is that those assumptions we choose to live by define our lives and who we are – those assumptions we choose to live by define our lives and who we are.
Take Joan for whom freedom and independence were key values. As a result she left a really high-paying job requiring long hours to go live on the beach and work freelance. Or Jim for whom work is such a central and fun part of his life that he is working 35 hour weeks in retirement.
These assumptions are often hidden in our actions. My own assumptions are around making a difference, about the importance of being a good ancestor and they heavily impact how I choose to allocate my energy. I have also want to be a good son to dead parents, a good husband and a good father. Even on something as ordinary as this humans find different ways of expressing it. We all know people working long hours to provide for their families and others whose focus is spending endless hours with their kids.
And yet the fact that there may be no right answer doesn’t make the question any less important. If anything it makes it more important. It is only when we become aware of the assumptions that drive our actions that we can step back and ask ourselves if these assumptions still make sense for us. These are sometimes taken on board early in life from our families or societies but may no longer serve us.
The challenge is that there is an increasing tendency to start from the tactical and let our inboxes and to do lists dictate what we do and accomplish in a day. My question is – what if we started with the big questions at the other end?
- What assumptions am I making about my life?
- Am I striving for some form of success? Power? Money? Respect? Eternal salvation?
- Am I living life for today or for the future?
And ultimately coming full circle to the question we started with “What gives me joy and purpose in life?” So as you go through the day, the invitation is to notice what answers come to you.
Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.